Pakistan’s tech industry has a last-minute surprise before Ramadan as the country’s second-ever tech Initial Public Offering (IPO) since 2021 goes live for subscription on the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in the coming weeks.
The company plans to raise about Rs. 430 million through an IPO. It is selling 78.2 million ordinary shares with a face value of Rs. 1 each for Rs. 5.50 per share.
The Director and Co-Founder Adil Ahmed of Symmetry Group Limited, a digital marketing and experiences company, told ProPakistani that the company aims to strengthen its holistic positioning in the market with the issue proceeds and introduce its ‘homemade’ version of ChatGPT and other tools to take Pakistan’s tech space to the next level.
How did you start and get such big clients so early on?
CEO and Co-Founder Sarocsh Ahmed said, “We started in 2003 as a normal proprietary concern. Adil was in the Middle East working with Yahoo, while I was in banking. After investing Rs. 150,000 in the business, we started exploring the field and later launched the first digital marketing agency in the country named Symmetry”.
On projects and expansion, Director and Co-Founder Adil Ahmed explained that the company’s model has always been a combination of digital marketing services and technology services, but it took some time to get where it is now. “Beginnings were tough as they’re supposed to be, but the scene exploded for us from one agency to multiple digital marketing agencies and data-driven enterprises once the money started coming in,” he said.
The early days involved a lot of cold calling and contacting different agencies to start a dialogue with prospectus clients. “Because there’s a legacy, it’s a bit tough to live up to it at present because of new competition, and mushroom growth in different agencies, competitors, and others. Looking back, the most important thing to remember is that we have always been regarded as thought leaders. We’ve always dared to defy convention and bring something fresh to the market. Most importantly, knowledge is key,” he remarked.
Adil noted that in order to stay ahead of the curve, it was important that the team educate itself and its clients in the process. “Everything we’ve done over the years has resulted in us being a very dependable company. We communicate to our clients that when they work with us, either we have transformed their digital possibilities or they can come to us and know that their possibilities will be transformed, thus proving the level of trust they have in the Group”.
Say Hello to Google Analytics!
Over the years, growth has been an exciting ride for Symmetry. Adil noted, “ProPakistani has grown alongside Symmetry Group over the years, and our connection is quite strong as a result, and it’s a nice story. When Symmetry first entered the space, prior to our highs, we contacted a leading publisher to run an ad campaign and asked them to provide us with a breakdown of their user base/reach. The only data we received was about hits, which didn’t tell us much about the publisher’s reach. Then for the first time in Pakistan, we introduced Google Analytics so that our clients (and the rest of the competitors) could learn how to map their audiences and understand their reach”.
This was a key role, according to Adil. He said, “Helping build the framework and bringing the industry to a level where they are able to actually monetize what they were getting in terms of traffic and users to beat other publishers, clients’ education, and provision of top talent. We did it”.
What is the future of digital marketing at Symmetry?
CEO Sarocsh Ahmed was positive about the role of digital in Pakistan and that of Symmetry. “We see a bright future. Transformation is regular. We transitioned from a service to a product company and are concentrating more on tools. A significant portion of our upcoming public offering will be invested in the development of these tools, and our goals in this area are global. We do not want to limit ourselves solely to the Pakistani market due to its extremely volatile nature and the overall business environment,” he stated.
Sarocsh remarked that the company has been working for a while on its public offering but the market position, socio-political events, and economic downturns have slowed it down. “We’re still at it and geared up for all challenges. The Pakistani market is a big space with around 260 million individuals and it can be off-tracked for a few years. But the market is here forever. We must develop a good mix, improve our export mix, and we see this growth with the help of the B2B/B2C tools that we are developing. This will most definitely help us in growing ourselves even further,” he added.
Is Symmetry in the right space?
Adil explained, “Trends are gold. Post-COVID, 124 million have regular access to online services in Pakistan. Advertisers are paying attention to what the audience is most interested in; Gen-Z in particular.
“Some of the leading advertisers on board with us are spending up to 50 percent on digital. This is a very good indicator that we are in the right space. Moreover, new platforms are coming up like TikTok and SnackVideo that are challenging the duopoly of Facebook and Google. Excitingly so, Pakistan’s very own OTD platforms have hit the market as well; people are creating massive new content and becoming influencers which is also an opportunity for us”.
In spite of all the growth, Adil still sees a scarcity of data-driven frameworks on the consumer-facing side of any organization operating in Pakistan. “To fill this gap, Symmetry has taken it as a responsibility, besides its own growth, to develop tools. We’re well advanced in new AI tools and have already made one. ChatGPT just entered the game and we’ve already used such a tool in our systems. For context, our entire website content is AI generated, and this shows how far we have grown as a company. This is our vision”.
Tell Us About the IPO. Where do you see most of the sum invested?
“60% raise is going towards the development of the tools. The remaining will be targeted for hiring specialized HR and marketing campaigns to envision all our brands under a unified umbrella. Another chunk of the post-IPO will be used in the acquisition of a 10,700 sq ft office, which is almost ready. Our philosophy is bootstrapping and our aim is to use this office space to fulfill the bare minimum requirements of our employees” Sarocsh stated.
Any Risks Post-IPO?
Sarocsh said, “Our SOPs are in place. We’ve seen hard times while operating in the Pakistani economy. HR is a big challenge, but our retention ratios are quite good. We’re planning a share option scheme post-IPO for our staff to further bolster our retention history, and internally Symmetry’s training programs and third-party certifications are pretty much extensive to help enhance the skills and growth of our resources”.
“In general, operationally we don’t see any risks post-deployment, and we’re well-positioned financially and have no debt issues. The only definitive risk that we face is our country’s future, for which we are working to mitigate any fallouts that may arise moving forward,” he added.
Adil added, “Throughout the challenges we’ve faced over the years, we’ve observed that reliance on digital has jumped significantly. That’s huge for us. COVID showed how the Pakistani market moved towards digital and the best example is how people quickly shifted to digital banking which opened more avenues for growth on its own. So with more challenges in the future, we see more opportunities.
Ventures Overseas and Expectations
The Symmetry executives said their growth model encourages partnerships with clients both locally and abroad. They said, “We’re currently working on partnerships in MENA and APEC countries for tools that we’ve developed. APEC is THE market for us to penetrate at the moment. We’re entering into a JV with another company in the region for technology and consultancy services and we expect to commence operations by March-April 2023”.
Taxes and Scaling Overseas
Sarocsh explained, “We don’t immediately plan on diversifying overseas as a hedge against taxes in Pakistan. But we’re currently engaged with a big business group based in Dubai to start a new venture in the region. It’s initial, and we see it as a project for the future”.
Regarding taxation, he added, “Taxation, in general, isn’t an issue. It’s the tax machinery that’s problematic. We hope that future governments would reform FBR with required digital tech implementations so it may streamline the tax regime for ease of accessibility”.
In his closing remarks, Adil commented, “To keep a certain edge, we were always placed as a digital marketing group in the space. But there were many techs and products that we envisioned and are still looking into. Our brand of digital technology and experiences company is a new kind of positioning. Currently, our Group has 4 main divisions namely interactive, transformation, mobility, and e-commerce. We’ve partnered with Ali Baba and are helping local traders grow by offering a channelized experience to one of the world’s biggest e-commerce enterprises”.
When is the IPO?
The company is aiming to go public in March. As far as the public response is concerned, it is pertinent to note that the last IPO of a tech company at the bourse was Octopus Digital. One of the key features of Symmetry’s offering is also the fact that it is not a huge number of shares being offered.
The valuation per share is adjusted to account for the current economic condition as markets are susceptible to bears. So, to offer an upside to investors as well, the IPO has been adjusted to ensure that the investors tend to gain a significant amount.
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